In search of the penis thieves

Several months ago, I posted about the capture of 13 "penis thieves" in the Congo who allegedly stole, or shrank, their victims' members. In the June issue of Harper's Magazine, Frank Bures tells of his travels to Africa in search of the penis thieves. During his quest, he riffs on the idea of "culture-bound syndromes" and "the interplay among culture, mind, and disease." From Harper's Magazine:
Wasiu, Bad Teeth told me, had gotten on the bus and sat down next to this woman. He didn’t have a watch, so he asked her what time it was. She didn’t know. Then the conductor came around and asked her for her fare. She didn’t have that either. As she stood up to get out of the bus, she bumped into Wasiu.

“Then,” he said, “Wasiu Karimu felt something happen in his body. Something not right. And he checked and his thing was gone.”

“Was it gone,” I asked, “or was it shrinking?”

“Shrinking! Shrinking! It was getting smaller.”

And as he felt his penis shrink, Wasiu Karimu screamed and demanded the woman put his penis back. The conductor told them both to get off the bus, and a crowd closed in on the accused, not doubting for an instant that the woman could do such a thing. But as soon as she saw trouble coming, Bad Teeth said, she replaced Wasiu’s manhood, so when the police took him down to the station, they thought he was lying and arrested him instead.
Penis thieves (Harper's Magazine, thanks Vann Hall!)

Previously on BB:
Accused penis thieves captured


  1. This is such a clear example of mass-hysteria; one person starts suspecting there’s something wrong with his peeper, he claims that a sorcerer is responsible. People start hearing about this and start to become paranoid (“Wait, it feels a little flaccid!”), and they start accusing people. Soon you have thousands of people in on the delusion.

  2. That’s always been my excuse after I brag about the size and then can pony up one that big. The witches did it.

  3. i got exactly one sentance into the Harper’s article before i cracked up and couldn’t go any further.

    “No one is entirely sure when magical penis loss first came to Africa.”


  4. Reminds me of the joke with the punchline, “Western doctor always want operate. You wait two week, it fall off by itself!”

  5. Monopole #71, the way that’s phrased, it sounds like a perverse version of the “got yer nose” game.

    (As for your last paragraph — Why’d you have to go there?)

  6. George: Do women know about shrinkage?
    Elaine: What do you mean, like laundry?
    George: No…
    Jerry: Like when a man goes swimming… afterwards…
    Elaine: It shrinks?
    Jerry: Like a frightened turtle!

  7. Has anyone considered the possibility that the only thing stopping this from happening to you, is the fact that you do not believe it is possible?

  8. You really should read the article. It’s very good. So this could mean many Western psychiatric disorders are culture-specific. Will other cultures suffer from say Oedipus complexes?

  9. Okay, now I’ve read the article. Quite interesting. It’s just that I have my reservations against the diagnosis of a ‘mental disorder’.

    See, if these occurances are deemed to be the result of a ‘mental disorder’, than, by the same principle, a person who has been given a placebo which results in an improved health status must also have a ‘mental disorder’. The only notable difference is that it had a beneficial effect.

    What can be said though, is that apparantly, a person’s convictions concerning reality have a huge impact on their perception, and can be quite affecting in a physical sense as well.

    To me, this would rather seem to be a general trait we all have in common, and not so much an anomaly.

    Remember Rasputin? That man thought himself to be invincible. And indeed he survived several attempts on his life, including poison.

  10. Wow, I know someone who causes the exact opposite to happen to me. I wonder if the two situations are related. Maybe he should be using his powers to battle the penis thieves.

  11. Well, if a beautiful woman can make your penis suddenly grow bigger, then it stands to reason that an ugly old “witch” will make it shrink, right? Ain’t no magic involved. As for “disappearing” I think he’s just the victim of stress blindness. Relax, go get a “full massage and release.”

  12. Imagine how embarassing it’d be if you had to admit to your mom: “Mom…someone stole my penis”

  13. The difference between the lynch mob and the police, the police checks to see if it’s really still there. It always is.

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